Sometime in high school, shortly after getting my first laptop, I learned how to pirate movies online. Now, at almost 28, I’m looking back at over a decade of my favorite little felony and the accidental film buff I’ve become along the way.
Give me a night with Fred and Ginger and a glass of wine when I’m feeling classy. Give me a lazy afternoon watching Oceans Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen and Eight (2001, 2004, 2007, 2018) or The Gentlemen (2019), or Inception (2010) when I feel like revisiting cinematic puzzle boxes of varying difficulties. Give me fast cars exploding in every cheesy action movie ever and give me passionate speeches in a courtroom drama. Give me subtext: a mahjong match that’s so much more than a game, a cocky comeback that speaks volumes, a dying man’s last word, or the movie made about the man who wrote that last word. Give me apocalypse by fire, freeze, zombie or disease—it’s all fodder for the class I teach and getting my students to debate the health of the body politic in Greenland (2020) and how that compares to Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year (1722) is an absolute delight.
But above and beyond all of these, I’ve figured out that a lot of my favorite films involve mentors.
Not just any mentor movies—yes, I love sports films and some of those fit here, but more than that I like industry mentor movies. Denzel Washington is fabulous with his team in Remember the Titans (2000), but he’s not making professional ball players, he’s not setting them up for careers, he’s trying to turn kids into good men. A fine occupation, and I’ve a long line of coaches and teachers that I’m grateful to, they deserve all the movies and recognition and properly allocated school funding they can get.
But beyond that: I love seeing someone in an industry mentor a newcomer, for good or ill.
Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada (2006) is an atrocious person, but I’ll be damned if Anne Hathaway doesn’t learn a thing or three from her. Or, take Mark Ruffalo in Begin Again (2013), a washed up music producer with his life on the rails find a young songwriter, the impeccable Kiera Knightly, and together they make an album. An album, incidentally, full of really good original songs like Coming Up Roses, which I have been humming at odd moments since I caught Begin Again on a flight years ago. More recently, Tracee Ellis Ross and Dakota Johnson did an utterly charming reversal of Ruffalo and Knightly’s story in The High Note (2020), where a passionate young wannabe music producer works to get a pop icon who has settled into a comfortable, if unexciting, routine to record a new album. Not unrelated, like Begin Again, The High Note is full of excellent original music, including the infinitely hummable Like I Do which is used to end the film in a truly heartwarming way.
All of these movies involve, on some level, someone taking a newcomer to a job and breaking them in. Introducing them to the contacts they’ll need, giving them entry into industries that are notoriously difficult to join.
There’s no deep psychology here.
If the recommended corrections are made and the creek don’t rise, I will graduate as Dr. deBie before 2021.
Technically I’m Dr. deBie now, I think, but it won’t feel real until there’s a paper saying that, even if that paper has to be mailed to me because in person graduations are a thing of the far future for Ireland.
Anyway, the long and the short is, I’ve lived my own mentor movie and I’m about to be kicked out of the nest. The mentored part of my story is ending, the contacts have been made, the industry skills have been honed, and I’m going to be expected to fly, not fall, and mentor my own fledgling academics in a few years.
If I can get hired.
And then it’ll be the same song, but the second verse.
I just hope that whoever’s writing this script knows what she’s doing.